18 September 2010

When you have the occasional 15 minutes to kill...

Since my last post, I've been reading China A to Z: Everything You Need to Know to Understand Chinese Customs and Culture by May-lee Chai and Winberg Chai. As much as I learned from reading Going Dutch in Beijing, there was much more to learn in the Chai book. The brief chapters are arranged, as promised, in alphabetical order, which I found great for browsing the book randomly--you know, when you have the occasional need to find something to read for 15 minutes or so (wink wink)--or when you can settle into reading for a spell.

Some of the information was immediately relevant to me. In the "Pinyin Spelling System" chapter, for instance, I was schooled in the most confusing Pinyin sounds for English speakers.  Right up there: C is pronounced "ts" like the end of "bats," never like "kuh," which explains some confusing pronunciations I've heard in Rosetta Stone. Also, Yi is pronounced "ee," not "yee," and "J" and "Zh" both carry the hard "j" sound, never the soft "j," but Z is pronounced "dz," like the end of "buds."  X is pronounced "sh," and Q is pronounced "ch" as in "church." Finally, G is pronounced with a hard "g," never like "juh."

Some if it is just fun: In the "Names" chapter, I learned that Ronald McDonald is called Uncle McDonald in China. From a marketing standpoint, giving ol' Ronald a family apellation makes him seem more familiar and friendly.  The book says he even has a partner to abet him in perpetrating American fast food cuisine on the Chinese--Auntie (or maybe Aunt) McDonald--although I've been unable to confirm her existence.

The chapter entitled "Hand Gestures" was enlightening. For instance, the correct way to say "Come" is not to extend a hand palm up and curl the index finger, as we do in the U.S., but to extend the hand palm down and curl all the fingers toward's oneself, which may look like a wave if one isn't familiar with the gesture.  Speaking of the index finger, I forgot to mention in the last post that the author of Going Dutch in Beijing says that pointing is a no-no in the East, including China. The China A to Z book says, if one does point at oneself or another, one points at the nose, not the chest. Finally, when indicating numbers from one to ten with one's fingers, numbers 1-5 are the same as in the U.S., but numbers six through 10 are very different. The Chinese gestures are designed to resemble the Chinese characters for those numbers. Thanks to American movies, most Chinese know the meaning of the ol' middle finger, although the gesture is not a traditional Chinese gesture. In China, the preferred offensive gesture is the extended pinky, which means, "You have a small..." you know. So, no raising your pinky when drinking tea!

There's a section called "How to Avoid Eating Unbearable Things" in the "Banquets" chapter. Now here is crucial information! Tip number one: Feign chopstick incompetence. Thrash those chopsticks around in your food and never let anything quite reach your mouth before you drop it. According to the authors, "Your hosts will be so embarrassed for you, you will become truly invisible." If your hosts send a server to help you, quietly whisper to the server to take the offensive dish away.  This will save the face of the server, who, after all, didn't order the food. On a tour, the book says, be sure to let your guide know your diet preferences.  I will be trying to think of a way to tell our guide, Jasmine: No fish heads or pig's faces, please.

China A to Z has many more interesting chapters about Chinese customs, history, personalities, politics and places. As a heretofore armchair traveler to China, I found it very interesting and informative.  I look forward to comparing what I learned from it to my actual experiences.

1 comment:

Book Dilettante said...

I recently read and reviewed Dragon Chica and am looking forward to reading this book as well.